The idea that BT are happy to consider the Phorm advertising system is amazing. To introduce a system that will monitor your activity AND act on that activity to deliver adverts to you and that you have to opt out rather than opt in is just ludicrous. It seems that BT are abusing their privileged position in carrying your data. Any other business that has an opportunity to collect your data must gain your consent to use it for anything other than delivering the service you requested from them. Why are BT able to do this? This is the kind of idea that comes up in sessions around building new ISP services and being more than a “pipe” provider, but gets shot down on the basis of overstepping the mark on privacy. I know this as I have been in that kind of meeting in the past. You need to think about ideas, but drop the bad ones.
If BT were to introduce a service that monitored all your phone calls for keywords then shared these trends with advertising partners there would be an outcry. What if they introduced this kind of service on the HomeHub Voice Over IP phone. You call Pizza Palace and they’ll relay the information to Super Pizza who can then put a discount leaflet for your favourite Pizza through your door or maybe even just re-route the call to save the printing! Sound scary? Well it’s not far away from some ideas that are raised in “service improvement” meetings.
Looking at the technical side, they suggest that you can switch it off by opting out. But you have to have a cookie on your system so they can see you’ve opted out. When you’re out you’re out 100%, the system doesn’t look at your traffic. But hold on, if it has to check a cookie then it has to look at something to check that. So it’s still looking at your traffic. That doesn’t sound like 100% to me. They also suggest that you can block cookies from webwise.net to stop the service. So something tries to set a cookie and gets blocked. Again, that doesn’t sound like being out 100%. That system still has logs. Everything I have seen about this service has too many contradictions and rings too many alarm bells. Ben Laurie has a good technical write up and considers what they look at, the risks of attack on the service and that any IP based opt out would have to be on a household not an individual.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with running targeted advertising. I don’t like it personally, but many people would love that. As I have said in the past, people would be happy with all sorts of different services as long as what they are getting (or trading) for cheaper service is clear. BT are calling for clarity on speeds, so lets have clarity on the whole service.
BT, you hold a position of trust. Please don’t abuse it.
The argument about Net Neutrality shouldn’t be about whether Service Providers can make deals with content providers or control the flow of traffic on their network. It should be about how this is presented to the consumer and ensuring that the consumer gets what they are told they are getting without the vague or ambiguous small print. There’s room for all sorts of products in the market place, but the consumer needs to know what they are signing up to.
Back in the early 90’s you could choose between closed services such as Compuserve or an Internet Service Provider. Compuserve was a relatively clean environment with moderated services. The Internet was the wild space where you might find some really useful stuff, but much of it was un-moderated and not always easy to find. The Internet was an open canvas with great flexibility and potential as long as you put some effort into it. Compuserve effectively conditioned the environment to ensure that the services they provided were of a reasonably consistent quality and reduced issues such as spam.
As with computer hardware, we are always pushing the limits of network capabilities, so it makes sense to prioritise traffic so that time critical data can be transmitted at a higher priority than non-time critical data. If an email takes a few minutes longer to arrive, most people wouldn’t even realise. If video stream data takes longer to arrive then you notice it. The more we push the network, the more we will need Quality of Service (QoS) measures to maximise network efficiency.
There are differences between content providers and how they run their service. Some make a big effort to ensure they can provide everybody with their content, such as using multiple providers and content delivery networks. These differences and the quality of their content can be what defines their success or lack of success.
If you have paid for an “Internet” service then you don’t expect your provider to artificially differentiate between content providers. If however you have paid for a “content specific” or “walled garden” service then you expect the promoted content to have a high quality of delivery but would accept that other content may be slow or may not even be accessible.
You are paying for the service provider’s skill in either managing an open connectivity network or identifying and negotiating for high quality content and services. There’s room for tiers within both these types of services too with value added bolt-ons such as security and storage. The walled garden network may even be free to access if it’s funded through content provider sponsorship (buying your attention). Maybe the walled gardens could offer basic Internet services such as messaging. As long as the consumer can clearly understand what they are buying then why constrain the providers’ ability to tune a service to a market?
Marketing seems to be at the heart of all this and at the moment, the consumers are getting a raw deal from confusing marketing information. The Verizon “unlimited” example is clear evidence of this.
At some point in the future, we are likely to want to ensure certain data has a clear path in the same way that we give priority to emergency vehicles even when they are going through a red traffic light. One day we may see doctors performing operations remotely and we certainly don’t want their actions delayed by somebody watching a dancing dog on YouTube.
Let’s not limit our future capabilities with wrongly focused laws.